Hundreds of Air Transat passengers were trapped for six hours on the tarmac in a plane that they say was so hot someone called 911.
Flight TSC157, which left Brussels around 9 a.m. ET Monday, was scheduled to land in Montreal at approximately 3 p.m. After circling Trudeau International Airport due to poor weather conditions, the pilot was forced to divert and land in Ottawa instead.
Olivier Alfieri, who was on the flight, told CTV News that the plane landed in Ottawa around 5 p.m. and passengers were told they would wait there for about 30 minutes for refuelling before heading back to Montreal.
Over the next few hours, passengers were repeatedly informed that the delay would last a little longer, Alfieri said.
Alfieri said the air conditioning wasn’t working properly, rendering it “very hot” and difficult to breathe. Eventually, the electricity shut off, leaving passengers with no air conditioning at all.
Babies were crying, at least one person vomited and passengers were repeatedly refused their request to deplane and wait in the airport, Alfieri said.
Passengers were given cups of water every 30 minutes or so, but told there was only enough food for children, according to Alfieri.
After about four hours on the tarmac, someone called 911, prompting paramedics and police to board the plane.
Alfieri said emergency responders distributed bottles of water, but still would not allow the passengers to disembark. He said they opened the plane doors to allow air to circulate but that allowed fumes into the plane.
Alfieri said an airport official told passengers that an Air Transat manager needed to make the call to let them off the plane but no one could be reached.
“I think it’s just a stupid company (that) doesn’t care about the clients,” he said. “There were lots of easy solutions,” he added.
Alfieri — who lives in Ottawa — said the plane took off after about six hours on the ground and passengers arrived in Montreal roughly 15 hours after he boarded.
Dog trapped in hold
Maryanne Zehil, who was also on the flight, told CTV News Channel that she panicked because her dog was travelling in the plane’s cargo hold without enough water.
Zehil said she repeatedly asked staff to check on her dog, but it was only when emergency responders and an airport official boarded around 9:15 p.m. that someone answered her pleas.
Zehil said that that she believes Canada should follow the lead of the United States, where airlines are forbidden by federal regulations from keeping passengers on tarmacs for more than three hours.
“I was really worried about the dog,” she said. “It was a like a nightmare,” she added.
Ottawa Police confirmed that someone called 911 and that the airplane had lost electricity and there was no air conditioning. They said an officer boarded the plane, but decided that the situation was not a police matter.
Air Transat responds
In a statement issued Tuesday, Air Transat said that more than 30 flights from different airlines had been diverted to Ottawa Monday because of “violent” thunderstorms in Montreal.
“As a result, Ottawa airport staff were unable to provide with loading bridges or stairs that would have enabled the passengers on the Brussels flight to disembark or our ground crews to replenish the aircraft’s empty drinking water reservoir,” the airline said, adding that a fuel shortage also resulted in the lack of air conditioning.
“We sincerely regret the inconveniences for our passengers caused by this situation that was beyond our control,” the statement said.
Airport: ‘It’s up to the airline’
Airport spokesperson Krista Kealy said that it is “up to the airline” to decide whether the passengers get off a plane and she questioned Air Transat’s assertion that there were no air stairs available.
“We’re very disappointed that [Air Transat] chose to say that some of the resources were not available to them,” she said. “There were air stairs available in the event that they did want to offload the aircraft.”
Kealy added that the airport has water, snacks, diapers and other resources available for passengers facing emergencies but, as far as she knows, the airport was not aware of the conditions on the plane until emergency responders were called around 9:15 p.m.
“Our team was ready to deploy if needed,” Kealy said. “They never contacted us.”
Kealy said that, when an airport official boarded with emergency responders, he found it “extremely hot” and immediately began providing bottled water. She said he also worked with border security agents to get water to a dog in the hold.
Kealy added that there were 20 planes diverted by bad weather to the airport Monday afternoon, and that “18 out of 20 were in and out quite quickly.”
The other plane that was delayed on the tarmac for several hours at Ottawa was also a Montreal-bound Air Transat flight, which had originated in Rome.
Feds studying passenger rights bill
Transport Canada Parliamentary Secretary Karen McCrimmon said in an emailed statement that she is “aware of the weather-forced diversion and subsequent extensive delay of several flights, including Air Transat flight TSC157.”
“I can imagine how difficult the situation must have been, especially after a long transatlantic flight,” she added.
McCrimmon said the government has proposed legislation “that would establish clear standards for how passengers are to be treated in various situations, including cases of overbooking, delays, cancellations, long delays on the tarmac, and lost or damaged baggage, to name just a few.
McCrimmon added that minimum compensation would be paid to passengers under certain circumstances if the new law and regulations are put in place.
The bill in question, known as C-49, has been referred to the transport committee for study before Parliament resumes in September, according to McCrimmon.
Many of the passengers on the Air Transat flight expressed their frustration and anger on social media.
No air. They are looking for who called 911 after 5 hours of suffocation @airtransat #passengerrights pic.twitter.com/7Am5kBUkBi
— Brice de Schietere (@BriceBxl) August 1, 2017
I’m sorry to hear that – it’s up to the airline to determine whether to deplane or wait it out when a flight diverts.
— Ottawa Airport (@FlyYOW) August 1, 2017
With files from CTV Montreal, CTV Ottawa and CTV National News’ Ottawa bureau